9. Vinny Del Negro
The former leader of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, Del Negro doesn’t have the best reputation among hardcore NBA followers. He infamously got into a physical altercation with executive John Paxson before leaving the Bulls, and is widely cited as strategically challenged. He does get his name into reports for nearly every new opening, though.
8. Avery Johnson
Johnson, now an analyst with ESPN, has fallen off the radar for new coaching spots. It’s unclear whether this is because he’s no longer too interested in jobs, after a rocky stint with the Brooklyn Nets, or because front offices just don’t want to hire him. His bad relationship with Nets point guard Deron Williams has led some to believe he doesn’t relate well to contemporary players — but Williams, in Johnson’s defense, hasn’t gotten along well with many coaches. Avery was a Coach of the Year with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, and any team looking for a defense-first approach may want to call him up.
7. Fred Hoiberg
Often mentioned as the most NBA-inclined of the NCAA coaches, Hoiberg runs an offense at Iowa State University that would certainly fit onto a professional court. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been previously linked to Hoiberg, and now the Bulls are believed to be in the running for his services, in the event that they part ways with Tom Thibodeau. One way or another, an NBA job will eventually be Hoiberg’s, if he wants it.
6. Scott Skiles
The rap on Skiles is that he can get your team to play hard and well for a few seasons, but will inevitably wear out his welcome by pushing too hard on the gas pedal, for too long. He burns his players out. It happened with the Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks, and skeptics fear it may also happen if he joins the team he once played for, the Orlando Magic. Skiles may be a good fit for that team while they’re still young and impressionable — but for how long could that pairing really last?
5. Nate McMillan
McMillan coached the Portland Trail Blazers for seven seasons and the Seattle SuperSonics for five, racking up a solid .514 winning percentage. Now an assistant with the Indiana Pacers, he is mysteriously absent from talks about most head coaching vacancies. Don’t be surprised to see mentions of him return this summer, though.
4. Mike D’Antoni
There wasn’t much love for Mike D’Antoni with the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, but he’s still remembered as the leading figure in the NBA’s offensive revolution for his work with Steve Nash and the “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni’s approach seems like a natural fit with the Denver Nuggets, if they decide not to hire beloved interim coach Melvin Hunt full-time. The heightened Colorado altitude, along with the pick-and-roll dynamism of point guard Ty Lawson, makes for a fertile soil for a D’Antoni renaissance.
3. Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson has become a subject of much mockery, for his often exhausting media presence and his self-righteous exit from the Golden State Warriors. He’s a hard guy to deal with, who burns bridges both in his locker room and in front offices. But there’s no denying the part he played in resurrecting the Warriors, and that he’s a world-class motivator who could improve almost any defense in the league. Jackson has been linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers — should things go south with David Blatt — due to sharing an agency with LeBron James.
2. Mike Malone
The Sacramento Kings never should have fired Mike Malone. George Karl is a Hall of Fame replacement, sure, but can he (or anyone else, for that matter) get DeMarcus Cousins on his side as thoroughly as Malone did? Cousins is one of the league’s most precious commodities: a once-in-a-generation big man talent whose powers are extremely difficult to unlock. That Malone had him happy, and playing the best ball of his life on both sides of the court, should be more than enough evidence to get him another head coaching job soon.
1. Alvin Gentry
D’Antoni paved the way in Phoenix, but few seem to remember that Gentry took them closest to the promised land. Fusing the pace-and-space offense with a strong-side defense that was equally progressive, Gentry’s 2009-10 Suns were a lot closer to a title than any previous Suns teams. Now an assistant with the league-leading Warriors, Gentry is known by wise NBA heads as one of the better strategists in the game, and an eminently likable one, to boot.
— John Wilmes